Improvements to public bus services

COLUMN: Can recent improvements to our public bus services help reduce Westmeath’s carbon footprint?

It might surprise readers to know that 94% of all transport carbon emissions in Ireland stem from road transport – aviation, rail and water-borne navigation account for only 6%.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions from transport amounted to 17.7% of our overall emissions in 2021 – making transport the second largest contributor, after agriculture.

Reducing emissions from road transport is going to be particularly challenging in rural Ireland, where we are heavily dependent on private car use.

The government’s Climate Action Plan 2021 sets out a pathway to achieving a 51% reduction in carbon emissions from transport by 2030. The plan focuses on electrification of the private and public vehicle fleet and investment in sustainable active travel options – in other words, providing people with alternatives to car travel by improving walking and cycling infrastructure and, crucially, by substantially investing in public transport.

A failure to invest in public transport outside of our capital city over the last 40 years has resulted in a common mindset that public transport is either completely unavailable in rural Ireland, or of such poor quality that it is viewed as something that is only endured until we can afford a car of our own.

This year, however, we have seen some signs that public transport in Westmeath is becoming a more attractive option for at least some road users – especially those commuting on a daily basis between Athlone and Mullingar – or between Athlone and Longford.

An improved and extended timetable on Bus Éireann Route 190 between Drogheda and Athlone – passing through Raharney, Killucan, Mullingar and Moate – is providing 10 buses a day in each direction, to serve daily commuters, third level students and shoppers with an option of going car free for at least some of their journeys.

In October a new bus route, number 167 between Mullingar and Dundalk, passing through Delvin, Clonmellon, Kells, Ardee and Louth Village, is similarly providing a service every three hours between the midlands and the north east, the first bus leaving Mullingar on weekdays at 6.40am.

In the reverse direction, commuters from the towns and villages to the east of the route can reach Mullingar on the first bus by 8.25am on weekdays.

Bus Éireann have also introduced additional peak time services on route 466 between Athlone, Longford and Cavan, passing through Glasson, Ballymahon, Edgeworthstown and Granard.

Further new routes are promised next year.

The cost of travelling by bus was also reduced substantially for many users in 2022. Transport for Ireland offer a 30% reduction on single fares with a Leap Card, and students and young adults get a 50% reduction with a Young Adult or Student TFI Leap Card.

Local Link bus services have also improved significantly in recent years. A booklet containing timetables for all Local Link bus services in Westmeath and Longford is available to download from the Local Link Longford Westmeath Roscommon website at

While improved public transport will be popular with those who don’t have access to a car, moving people who currently drive across to public transport is likely to be a difficult, longer term cultural and behavioural shift.

The extension of public bus services can help to reduce Westmeath’s carbon footprint, but only if we begin to use them as an alternative to private car transport. With fuel prices causing financial hardship for many daily commuters, these new routes and discounts could provide an incentive for some to start seriously considering bus travel sooner or later.

These improved services are certainly going to be good news for students travelling to TUS Athlone, NUI Maynooth or further afield. With onboard WiFi now as standard and a high level of comfort with a new fleet of buses, students are encouraged to develop a public transport habit for life.

Further information on these new public transport options in Westmeath is available on the Mullingar Sustainable Energy Community website at

For more information about the Mullingar Sustainable Energy Community, see